I’d like to do something a little different this week for my music/teaching post. One of the most difficult and often intimidating aspects of music is learning to read notes. It’s not something that can be learned overnight, and it has to be constantly reinforced on a consistent basis.
But I won’t jump ahead of myself and go into too much detail about reading music today–that will come later. Instead, I thought I would share a game I made up to give my students a chance to practice and reinforce said reading skills. Why a game?
Because games make learning fun! Now, I’m not saying music lessons can be or should be all fun and games 100% of the time, but there is certainly a time and place for it. Not only are games fun, but they have the added benefit of reinforcing concepts without the student noticing and (hopefully) keeping them interested and involved.
So, with all that being said, let’s take a look!
I specifically designed this game to be fast, so it can be used in lessons without taking up too much time. It isn’t something I pull out at every single lesson, mind you, but it’s great when we have 5 minutes to spare at the end of the lesson and the student could use the extra practice. Only using the game on occasion means the students appreciate it more, because they don’t come to expect it every time, and it can also be a great motivator to stay focused and finish early (which is why I almost always play it at the END of lesson).
Given that the game was made up rather hastily, on the spur of the moment when inspiration struck (and I was anxious to have it ready ASAP to use with my students), and also considering the limits of my own abilities, you will see from the pictures that it is far from professional in appearance, but it does the job. I wasn’t too concerned with a clever name for it at the time, so I just went with, “Name That Note!”
However, all my students merely refer to it as “the board game,” so I guess it doesn’t really matter. 😉
Here is the actual board itself, drawn with my limited artistic ability using Microsoft’s Paint program, then printed and glued to a piece of cardboard (Note: drawing with a computer mouse is a lot harder than it looks, so don’t judge!):
Please disregard the board’s poor condition. I travel teach, so the game has received its fair share of battering over the years (and could probably stand to be “refreshed”). The kids don’t care though, and they enjoy it all the same. In fact, this game is quite popular, and no one has ever not wanted to play it. As a bonus, it also works great for sibling students. They can play it together, which adds a more competitive side to it.
The objective is pretty simple. The players start at the green start space and play until they reach the last orange space (with the word “bonus” on it, which is kind of hard to make out in the picture). Since I give my kids a piece of candy after each lesson, I usually just let them pick a piece early and use that as their “playing piece.” After they finish the game, they get to keep it.
Before the player can move their piece, they must first answer a music question correctly. I have two sets of flashcards for this game:
The top pile is the set for regular game play. The bonus question comes in at the end, so we’ll get back to that later. One great thing about this game is that I can literally include whatever questions I want, so the game can “grow” with my students and as they learn new concepts, new questions can be made to increase the game’s difficulty and keep it relevant. As you can see from the top card, some of the questions are naming notes (hence the game title). I also have questions for identifying dynamics, phrase markings, tempos, key/time signatures, rhythm, intervals, etc.
If the question is answered correctly (on the first try), the student then gets to spin the “Rhythm Wheel“:
They then can move their playing pieces the number of spaces equal to the number of beats the spinner landed on.
For some questions, I’ve also included a chance for a free space, kind of like a mini bonus question. If it is answered correctly as well, they get to add one free space to the number they spin. This is optional, but it’s nice because it requires the student to show further understanding of the symbol beyond its name, plus it helps the game to move along faster. For example, if the question card has a picture of a half note on it, the main answer is simply giving the name: “half note.” But if the student can then tell me how many beats the half note receives, they get the free space.
And that’s the majority of the game. The student answers a question correctly, spins the wheel, and moves their piece. I did add a rule that, if a question is answered incorrectly, the player must go backwards one space. This helps to ensure the students think carefully before answering, instead of just throwing out a random guess, because they want to get it right the first time.
Once a player reaches the last space, they haven’t won yet! First, they have to answer a Bonus Question. Bum-bum-bum!!
These are a little more involved, and mainly require the students to show understanding of a more abstract concept, something other than just symbol recognition. For the very beginners, the Bonus Questions are limited to things like “are these notes moving by steps or skips?” or “How many black keys are there in D position?”
As the student advances, again more difficult Bonus Questions are added. For example: naming the circle of 5ths in order; giving the tonic, dominant and leading tone of a specific key; giving the order of sharps/flats; or even answering a type of “word problem,” where I read them a question and they have to explain it to me. This can be done one of two ways: by giving a term for the student to define, or reading the definition and having the student tell me the term. I like to mix it up, so that they have to get used to knowing the term as well as how to properly explain it. The terms are generally ones that don’t have a corresponding “symbol” to use in the main game play, or are just a little more difficult, such as broken chords/arpeggios, half/whole steps, enharmonics, etc. The point of the Bonus Question is that it requires the student to think a little more thoroughly, without the visual aid in most cases.
When they answer a Bonus Question correctly, they win! 🙂
If playing with 2 or more players, I have an alternative rule where, if the first person to reach the Bonus Question space answers it incorrectly, normal play continues. The other players get to keep playing and moving closer, while the first player has to keep answering Bonus Questions until they get one right. This gives those behind the opportunity to catch up, answer a Bonus Question correctly and steal the win, thus keeping the competition going.
Feel free to contact me if you would like to receive a PDF document of the game template and rules for free (including alternative game play methods not mentioned here)!
That’s it! I hope you enjoyed it, and if you like it, feel free to steal it! Consider it a little early Christmas present from me. I’m all about sharing knowledge, experience and ideas to help each other out. So much of what I’ve learned these past few years has come from talking and listening to other music teachers, so I know how valuable that kind of information is. The beauty of this game is that’s it’s simple, easy to teach and play, and fast. Yet it’s also fun and the kids love it, and it reinforces their reading skills simultaneously!
I’ve considered adding a timing element to it too, where they have to answer before the time runs out. It might help students to work on not only recognition, but fast recognition of notes and symbols. I haven’t tried that yet, so I’ll keep y’all updated once I have. Probably I would save the timing element for students who have more experience with the base game first. Reading notes is hard enough at the beginning, without added outside pressure! So I would suggest giving them some experience with the flashcards first before timing them.
Feel free to leave any questions, comments, or your own ideas below!